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If four-leaf clovers bring good luck, three-leaf clovers bring stress to gardeners and homeowners everywhere. Clover is commonly considered a weed since it grows so abundantly in North America and throughout much of Europe. Although it does have some uses, it grows fast enough to overtake many turfgrasses, and its small white flowers distract from a lush green lawn.
There are plenty of ways to get rid of clover without using synthetic weed killer, and we’ll go over the most common and effective methods. However, keeping a lawn free of any kind of weed takes a great deal of time and effort, and not all homeowners want to perform this level of maintenance themselves. If that’s the case, hiring a professional lawn service is a good way to go. Nearly all of these companies provide weed control services, and many will use natural products at your request.
In This Article:
- What Is Clover?
- Why Is Clover Growing in My Lawn?
- How Do I Get Rid of Clover Naturally?
- Why Professional Weed Control May Be Right For You
- Top Recommended National Provider: TruGreen
- Frequently Asked Questions
Our recommendation for a nationwide lawn maintenance company is TruGreen, which has locations in 48 states.
What Is Clover?
If your yard is covered in three-leaved, shamrock-shaped plants, they’re probably white clover, scientific name Trifolium repens, the most common variety in North America. These short-stalked clovers produce white or slightly pink flowers. As an aside, four-leafed clovers are slightly mutated varieties of T. repens, and they occur at a rate of about 1 out of every 5,000 stalks. Even less common are five- and six-leafed clovers, but they are possible to find.
Red clover, or Trifolium pratense, is also somewhat common. These clovers have longer oblong leaves and grow to be much taller than their white cousins, producing a rose-pink flower on a stalk that can grow to more than two feet in length. Red clover is less likely to take over a lawn because it grows vertically instead of spreading across the ground, but it can still act as a weed.
Both types of clover can actually be beneficial to a yard’s soil. These plants capture nitrogen from the air and put it back into the soil, reducing the need to fertilize your lawn. Additionally, clover is a protein-rich food for livestock, so it’s sometimes grown intentionally for grazing purposes.
However, when it comes to your yard, your plants and grass might not benefit from the competition for water and resources that clover brings. Many homeowners simply don’t like the way it looks and prefer to keep their yards free of clover patches. If the clover doesn’t bother you, there’s no need to take action, since it’s not harmful to humans or pets. However, if you want it gone, there’s plenty of ways to get rid of clover naturally.
Why Is Clover Growing in My Lawn?
You might find clover in your lawn for a number of reasons, all of which have to do with the quality of the soil.
The Soil Lacks Nutrients
Most plants need nitrogen to grow, but clover can grow in nitrogen-poor soil because it gets what it needs from the air. Other plants and grasses aren’t so lucky, so they might give way to patches of clover. The good news is that clover will replace the soil’s nitrogen, but it probably won’t do it as fast and attractively as you’d like.
Low soil nitrogen can be a result of environmental factors like cool weather, but it can also be caused by overuse of fast-acting synthetic fertilizers. Although they create quick blooms of grass, these fertilizers can lower the quality of the soil in the long run. Switch to slow-release or organic fertilizers to prevent this problem in the future.
The Soil is Stressed
Stress can take a number of forms when it comes to soil. One is over-fertilization, as discussed above. Another is over-irrigation. Excessive water can wash the nitrogen out of the dirt, so heavy rainfall or overwatering can lower the quality of the soil, inviting patches of clover to move in.
It’s important to remember that soil quality can vary throughout a yard. If you have sprinklers that overlap patterns as they distribute water, these spots of overwatering can create the right conditions for nitrogen-poor soil that sprouts clover.
The pH of the Soil is Wrong
pH is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The ideal pH for soil is around 6.5, meaning it’s slightly acidic — for comparison, water has a neutral pH of 7. However, if the soil becomes too acidic, more delicate plants and grasses may be unable to grow. Clover, however, can withstand a soil pH of as low as 6, so it might be growing because it’s one of the few things that can.
Balancing out acidity is usually a matter of applying minerals like lime to the soil. Most professional lawn care services have the equipment to both test soil acidity and apply additives to fix it.
The Soil is Compacted
Soil can appear to stand up to heavy traffic, but the internal structure of the soil becomes compacted over time, squeezing out nitrogen and other nutrients and preventing roots from taking hold. Again, clover can grow in conditions that other plants cannot, so clover may be an indication that a particular patch of soil is too compact or overworked.
This can be fixed with regular aeration, or inclusion of air into the soil. Aeration can be done with spikes, but the more thorough method is to dig up plugs of soil and let them naturally recombine with the dirt over time. This is called plug or core aeration, and you can either rent the proper equipment or hire professionals to aerate your lawn.
How Do I Get Rid of Clover Naturally?
Now that you know why the clover’s there, you probably want to know how to get rid of it. The method you choose will likely depend on how widespread the problem is and how much time you have to devote to solving it.
Pull It Out
The most tried-and-true weed control method is getting down on your hands and knees and removing clover plants manually. Of course, that’s not always practical, and for large infestations, it’s all but impossible. However, if you’re only dealing with a clump or two, simply pulling or digging it up will work. As with other weeds, make sure you get all of the roots.
Increase Your Mowing Height
Unfortunately, mowing the clover down to its stalks is only a temporary solution, since it doesn’t get rid of the clover’s root system. A better mower-based solution is actually to let your grass grow a bit longer. If you leave your grass at about three inches in height, the clover will have a harder time getting the sunlight it needs to survive. Remember that white clover grows laterally, not vertically, so burying it beneath taller grass will starve it. Next time you mow the lawn, be sure to raise the setting on the mower’s blades.
Cover It with Plastic Sheeting
This method is usually only practical for isolated patches of clover, but it only requires some dark plastic garbage bags. Cut the bag to fit the patch or patches, cover them completely, and use rocks to weigh down the pieces of plastic. It may take several weeks to kill the clover, and remember that any plant you deprive of sunlight and oxygen will likely die, so don’t cover up any grass. However, this solution has the benefits of being both low-tech and low-effort.
Apply Corn Gluten Meal
This plant byproduct is available at most hardware and gardening stores, and it will prevent clover outbreaks without the use of synthetic chemicals. While it won’t kill existing clover plants, corn gluten works by drying out seeds, preventing weeds from spreading. Of course, it doesn’t discriminate — it dries out all new seedlings — so don’t use it if you’ve recently seeded your lawn with grass.
About 20 pounds of corn gluten will cover 1,000 sq. ft. of lawn, so keep to this ratio if your yard is much smaller or larger. Cover the ground with an even layer of corn gluten meal and then water the lawn. As the corn gluten dries, it will release organic peptides that will kill any new weeds before they can sprout. As a bonus, it will also kill ant infestations.
Make Your Own Weed Killer
Whether you don’t like the idea of traditional broadleaf herbicides or you simply want to keep your lawn safe for children and pets to play on, you can easily make your own non-toxic weed killer by mixing one cup of vinegar with a drop of dish soap. Shake up the mixture, put it in a spray bottle, and spray any patches of clover you find.
The vinegar itself eats through the cuticle of the clover’s leaves, which will make the weed dry up. The dish soap helps the vinegar cling to the leaves long enough to do damage. Keep in mind that, like all herbicides, this won’t discriminate between weeds and desirable plants, so only apply it to what you intend to kill. This solution works best on young weeds, so it may take several applications to get rid of the clover completely.
Apply Organic Fertilizer Regularly
Although clover does well in nitrogen-poor soil, it can’t survive in soil that is nitrogen-rich. Again, this is more of a preventive method, but if you keep up with a regular fertilizing schedule and use organic, slow-release products, your soil will remain healthy and less likely to sprout clover. While organic fertilizers are more expensive, and slow-release varieties don’t result in the nearly-instant grass growth that synthetic quick-release fertilizers do, in the long run, your lawn will look healthier longer if you have patience and spend a little more.
Organic fertilizers are made from plants, animal waste or byproducts, or minerals. They usually add nitrogen, potassium, and/or phosphorus to the soil, but some may have additional effects, like lowering the pH of the soil or improving its structure. Here are some examples of organic fertilizer:
- Animal-based — cow manure, poultry manure, earthworm castings, blood meal, bone meal, feather meal, seabird guano, bat guano, fish emulsion, shellfish meal
- Plant-based — alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, corn gluten meal, soybean meal, liquid kelp, seaweed, grass clippings
- Mineral-based — rock phosphorus, greensand, epsom salt
How often you need fertilizer will vary based on the climate you live in, but a good starting place is about four times a year. Make sure one of those times is in the early spring, just as the growing season starts. This will prepare your soil for the plants you want to grow and make it hostile to weed growth.
Why Professional Weed Control May Be Right For You
Weeds like clover can spread fast and far, and it’s hard to keep up with them on your own. Even if you enjoy tending to your garden, you might not relish the thought of weeding your entire lawn, especially if it’s large. Professional lawn services are happy to provide weed control, whether as an individual service or part of an annual lawn maintenance package.
Professional companies have the products and equipment in stock to take care of weeds quickly and efficiently. Many will use organic or nontraditional products at your request, getting rid of clover naturally without rendering your grass unsafe for children and pets. Most times, hiring a service is much easier than purchasing herbicides and applying them yourself.
What Does Weed Control Cost?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to give a single answer to this question because the cost will vary greatly based on the size of your lawn, your geographical location, and the company you hire. A large lawn will cost more than a small lawn, and a yard that’s heavily infested with weeds will likely require more treatments than a well-maintained lawn with only a few patches of clover.
In general, Thumbtack estimates that weed control services will cost either $30-$40 per hour or $65-$90 per treatment, however the service bills. A “weed and feed service,” in which weed control is followed up by at least one fertilizer treatment, ranges from about $75 to $105. The fertilizer will add nitrogen to the soil, which will keep the clover from coming back.
Top Recommended National Provider: TruGreen
If you want to make sure you’re getting natural weed control products at reasonable prices, we recommend TruGreen, a nationwide lawn service provider with locations in 48 states.
TruGreen makes it easy to get a free estimate for weed control and other lawn care services.
Their prices will depend on the specifics of your lawn, but in many locations, the first treatment costs as low as $29.95.
The company offers weed control as a stand-alone service or as part of a yearly lawn maintenance package that encompasses fertilization, aeration, pest control, and more. Here’s a breakdown of TruGreen’s service packages.
|Healthy Lawn Analysis||Healthy Lawn Guarantee||Weed Control||Aeration||Fertilizer||Lime||Trees & Shrubs||Visits per Year|
If you’re interested in getting rid of the clover in your lawn naturally, the TruNatural plan, which uses natural fertilizer and non-chemical weed control methods, is your best bet. TruGreen’s technicians will work to crowd out clover and other weeds with routine maintenance and fertilizer application. If, however, some clover patches prove stubborn, they will apply small amounts of traditional herbicides — only at your request — at no extra cost.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I have so much clover in my lawn?
As we noted earlier, clover can grow in nitrogen-poor soil where other plants cannot, so its appearance can be a sign of low soil quality. You might be overwatering your lawn and washing out the nitrogen, or the soil may have become compacted and require aeration. If you hire a professional lawn service, you can discuss the issue with an expert, and they’ll likely be able to analyze your soil and get to the root of the problem.
What kills clover in grass?
There are many products marketed to kill clover and other weeds, but they work on similar principles.
- Herbicides or weed killers, whether store-bought or homemade, damage or poison the weed until it dies.
- Treatments like corn gluten meal dry out weed seedlings to keep them from sprouting.
- Putting plastic sheeting over clover deprives it of sunlight and oxygen, killing it.
Additionally, simply pulling clover out by its roots will kill small infestations.
Does vinegar kill clover?
Vinegar not only kills clover, but other plants as well. Vinegar is the common name for acetic acid, and as an acid, it does damage to the waxy cuticle that covers the surface of the clover’s leaves and stems. Plants need that cuticle to keep from losing water, so applying vinegar to clover — or any plant — will dry it out. Always take care to apply vinegar only to weeds.
Will clover take over grass?
Although clover won’t directly kill a turfgrass and does enrich the soil, it acts as a direct competitor for water and nutrients. Since it spreads laterally and grows better than grass can in poor-quality soil, clover can certainly appear to “take over” a lawn.